Friday, January 4, 2013

The usual BREAKdown

At their child care center Michael and Sophie rock circle time by naming shapes and colors on flash cards, counting to twenty and back, singing the ABC's, listening to stories, and dancing and playing with their friends.  They bravely run off to play at drop-off time and are typical toddlers at pick-up, greeting me with giggles and kisses while a little reluctant to leave their school toys, snacks, and buddies. 

But bring in grandparents and Santa for the center's Christmas party, and I get two munchkins attached to my knees.  At parties and playdates with unfamiliar kids in unfamiliar places, it's the same.  Eventually they warm up, but those better social skills that time in quality child care is supposed to cultivate are non-existent for at least the first fifteen minutes.

Duckies at the Mall
It even takes some nudging to get the kids to brave the masses of kids at the mall play space.
I took Michael and Sophie to a gymnastics playdate with my MoMs group during my holiday break from work.  I wasn't surprised that as the kids lined up to go into the gym, Michael and Sophie got clingy, wanted "up-up-up," and didn't really participate in the guided activities on the mat. They didn't want to leave my side to go in the blow-up castle or jump on the trampoline.  The rest of the bunch as far as I could tell was fully engaged and happy.  As always, Michael and Sophie warmed up over time, but also as always, it concerned me.

A number of thoughts have been circling in my mind in a more focused search for an explanation and a solution.

a) Our family time is limited by our various schedules, so we haven't really made room for structured activities. On weekends we play catch-up, getting groceries, doing laundry, and visiting family. The rest of the time then and on weeknights is when we like to just soak up time with our kids, playing at home or on outings, primarily without unfamiliar adults or kids involved.

b) My job forces us to be early risers (5:30 or 6 AM most days), so by a mid-morning event Michael and Sophie are nearing lunch and nap time, starting their tranformation into Sleepy and Grumpy.  Same goes for events around dinner time.  That window until bedtime is small.

c)  Since we don't do any classes or playgroups like we would if I stayed home all year, Michael and Sophie just aren't used to that kind of experience.  They can follow their teachers' directions and interact with other kids at their center, but outside of that setting they freeze up.  Perhaps they're even worried that I'm about to drop them off at these places they don't know with a bunch of essential strangers.

d) Michael and Sophie are little for their age, like 5th and 10th percentile little.  They seem to get intimidated by taller, faster, bigger kids.  I noticed this even when picking them up from the gross-motor room at their center where the kids are roughly their same age but jump and climb rambunctiously while Michael and Sophie are more likely to just hop and dance. 

e) I'm more of a fine-motor and cognitive activity kind of gal with neither athletic abilities nor interests.  I taught the kids to play Memory this week, and that was a major highlight of my holiday break, I loved it so much.  Mike balances me out a bit on that one, but he too loves quality time with good book or puzzle.  The kids seem to be the same, perfectly content to color or read or build with blocks.  I aim to get the kids outside once a day for fresh air and to help with sleep, but I rarely find they have excessive energy when we miss a day.  Perhaps encouraging more active play would boost their confidence. 

About to get all competitive!
f)  I'm a paranoid mama, I know it.  Our baby registry included Angel Care Monitors and Clouds and Stars sheets to ease my fears of SIDS.  I make the kids hold my hands everywhere, and we only recently turned their car seats forward-facing.  There was even some serious soul-searching involved this week in taking the kids sledding for the first time, stifling memories of Ethan Frome and the loss of Mike's brother (car accident, not sledding).  My paranoia about Michael and Sophie's physical safety could be affecting them.

Taking all of that into account, Mike and I have talked about signing the kids up for swimming, dance, music, or gymnastics classes for the last year or so. Long story short I have now looked further into some gymnastics classes for this spring and maybe summer, and we plan to make this happen when registration opens in February.

And of course my mind does wander again to that question that will forever plague me: Would my kids be better off if I stayed home? Maybe. Dare I say probably?  Perhaps their vocabulary and social skills are stronger than they would have been.  But will they be more disruptive in elementary school?   Am I at least happier putting my degrees to work and contributing financially to our family? Would a bigger home have been the possibility that it is currently?  Will it even happen now?  Hello, last few days of a break from work--this happens every time.

The kids were scrambling around the living room last night as I vented all of this to Mike. At the words "better off," Mike's smiling are-you-f-ing-kidding-me face said it all. Our kids are fine, beyond fine. Brilliant, compassionate, hillarious, and gorgeous more like it.

 But we're going to work on this.  I know I'm probably thinking harder about this than necessary, but that's what I do.  :)

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